National disasters are confusing enough to adults. But explaining them to children can be especially difficult. Children will naturally have questions about what they've seen on TV or heard at school. Although there are no easy answers, Dr. David Walker, of Alegent Health Psychiatric Associates at Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska gives some tips to help guide parents in providing answers.

Dr. Walker earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and completed his psychiatric training at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at Alegent Health Psychiatric Associates at (402) 398-5550.

  • Remember, a child's anxiety is different from adult anxiety. Adults may be anxious about the state of the world, but children are much more concerned about their personal world. They want reassurance that their lives and their routines are safe. Even if adults have their own fears, it is important that they provide children with a level of protection and comfort that Mommy and Daddy are keeping their personal world safe.
  •  Keep in mind a child's level of maturity in providing information.  Younger children (under 5 or 6) need clear reassurance that their world is safe, without details about a world situation they cannot understand.  A more detailed response is helpful with adolescents.  The most difficult ages are probably 6 to 11, when children are old enough to prevent shielding them from the details of the disaster, yet not old enough to understand those details.  Give them clear, simple explanations, always keeping in mind the underlying context of reassuring them that their world is safe.
  • Parents have understandable anxiety, of course. Children pick up on this and personalize it. It's important for parents to share their anxieties with other adults, their spouse, friends, etc., thus protecting their children from it to some degree.
  • Most importantly, remember that how children handle this very much depends on how their parents handle it. If they believe their parents feel the world is out of control, it's much more scary. Understandably, parents may feel out of control. But it's important to give their children a sense of security.